Bill Martin is a businessman, a great one judging by his resume. A billion-dollar developer of residential and commercial property, Michigan's AD also founded the Bank of Ann Arbor before moving to the athletic side.
It's hard to figure, then, how Martin ever let it get to this point at Michigan. Columnists with a lot more business acumen than me have been torturing keyboards this week in the analysis of Rich Rodriguez' buyout agreement. See, it isn't an agreement at all. It was a bailout. Michigan is picking up $2.5 million of the $4 million Rich Rod owes West Virginia.
Martin had to know it was going to end this way -- with his coach owing the entire $4 mil and Michigan paying part of the bill. I have questions. Then, below, I have some comments from Rodriguez from a June interview.
--Did Martin, that shrewd businessman, read the court documents? In hindsight, it was a fairly cut-and-dried deal.
--How did he not tell Rodriguez that the coach didn't have much wriggle room on this one? In the end the issue was simple: The coach's name was on the contract agreeing to the buyout.
--Assuming Martin did his due diligence why wasn't this issue addressed before, or shortly before, Rodriguez signed at Michigan? Shoving the two-ton elephant to the corner is the exact same thing Rodriguez did when he signed his last West Virginia contract.
Instead, Rodriguez, West Virginia and Michigan were needlessly dragged through the mud. Obama has handlers to spin things when the presidential candidate dares to deviate from his well-crafted script.
Colleges have, well, I've said this for years ... College athletics needs an image consultant. From ham-handed SIDS and public information officers (the overwhelming majority are great people, by the way), to despotic coaches to bankers-turned-AD, the industry knows squat about crisis management. It knows how to let coaches shut down practices. It knows how to limit media access to players whose scholarships are subsidized by the public. It knows how to let a coach chase rainbows in court.
Just being congenial human beings sometimes is a lost art. We long for fall Saturdays and March Madness. We get seat licenses sucking loyal alums dry. We get tuition increases to pay for flat screens in players' lockers. We get ... corporate b.s. There's a situation in Kansas right now involving the university and a local T-shirt maker. Larry Sinks owns JoeCollege.com in Lawrence, Kan. (please, look it up). Kansas contends in a lawsuit that Sinks' is selling unlicensed Kansas gear.
Sinks does not use Kansas trademarks or logos. In fact, the shirts are some of the most devious and creative I've ever seen.
--In reference to overweight coach Mark Mangino: Our Coach is Phat!
--Same reference: Our Coach Can Eat Your Coach
--Transpose the first letters and you'll find out what KU thinks of rival Missouri: Muck Fizzou
Kansas is no different from most schools when it comes to "officially licensed" merch. It is tired, old, over-priced and pretty much sucks. As a longtime consumer of logo gear let me say this: Creativity (and affordability) go out the door when licenses are signed.
The school, obviously, is making a killing on its stuff after winning basketball's national championship. According to Sinks, he is trying to get through life day to day after being slapped with the lawsuit. His storefront on Massachusetts St. in Lawrence is unassuming and modest. But apparently Kansas has determined Sinks has established a lucrative beach head in raiding the school's coffers.
Kansas essentially is trying to say it owns the rights to the color blue and the word "Kansas". The case could be landmark if the jury decides that a shirt with the phrase "If You Mess With The Bird, You Get The Beak," constitutes a licensing violation.
The state itself is named after the Kansa Indian tribe. Using NCAA logic, the school should be barred from wearing anything with the word "Kansas" on it. The NCAA has set arbitrary rules for schools using Indian nicknames. How is Illini "hostile and abusive", as the NCAA put it, and the state name, Illinois, isn't. Both refer to Indian tribes?
How "Seminoles" is less offensive than Indians or Tribe (William and Mary) is a case of palms being greased. The Seminole tribe has a business arrangement with Florida State.
Anyway, back to Rich Rod. Back in June he told me that West Virginia's intent was extend the lawsuit into the fall; not only bleed him dry but distract him from his job. With fall practice looming, it became time for everyone to move on.
Here is Rodriguez' take on the issues taken from that early June interview in Ann Arbor:
"I was always pushing for things for the program at West Virginia. But that was my job. People say I was petty. I was thinking the other way.
"I was told (by administration), 'Don't worry about (the buyout) ... We'll reduce it or eliminate it. I don't believe in buyouts.' That's what I was told by the No. 1 boss at the school (president Michael Garrison).
"(I was told), 'We've got to get (the contract) done right now. There's pressure from the governor, to the board to the president.' Maybe I should have had an attorney present. I was getting ready to start practice in a week.
"I probably didn't tell enough in my deposition, how many times I was told, 'Just trust us." That phrase, 'Just trust me,' went on for five or six months.
"I had a meeting with the president before I left. One of the things I said was, 'Here I've been at a place seven years and we've done some pretty good things. You're telling me no to everything. Where there's another school with great tradition, great opportunity telling me, yes.' I said 'I'm getting confused. It should be the other way around.' That was probably the most shocking thing to me, the actions of the president."
Finally, let's end this mega-blog with an anecdote. Shortly after Rodriguez took the Michigan job, his wife Rita was back in West Virginia grocery shopping. A bag boy noticed the Michigan plates while taking the groceries to her car.
"When you go back to Michigan, tell that guy Rodriguez, 'Blah, blah, blah,' Rodriguez quoted the bag boy as saying.
"That's my husband," Rita Rodriguez said.
"Why did he leave?" the bagger replied.
After relaying the story, Rodriguez leaned back and said, "It's time to move on."
Consider that the last words on the subject. Aren't you ready for some football, Michigan?